Tag Archive: World 3

Against the autonomy of World 3

Popper (1972, 107-108) presents one of his “standard arguments for the independent existence of the third world” with the help of a thought experiment. Compare the following two situations: (a) All our machines and tools are destroyed, and all our knowledge of them. But books and our capacity to learn from them survive; and (b) all our machines and tools are destroyed, and all our knowledge of them. All books are destroyed, too.

In the second case, Popper argues, it would take much more time for the world to reemerge. I think that this hypothesis is quite plausible. Let us assume it is true. What follows from this? According to Popper (1972, 108), his thought ex­periment demonstrates the “reality, significance, and degree of autonomy of the third world.”

This, however, does not follow from the premises of the thought experiment. Strictly speaking, this thought experiment only demonstrates the significance of books. We may conclude that books, at least some of them, are significant things, which could, under special conditions, decisively influence how the world goes on. If we presuppose, in addition, that books are world 3 objects, then it follows that some world 3 objects are significant things. But the thought experiment itself does not tell us that there is a world 3, and that books are world 3 objects. Books could have great impact yet be physical things. After all, physical things can also significantly change the world, and our life (e.g., the impact of a meteorite).

Popper further illustrates the reality and influence of world 3 by referring to problem situations in science and mathe­matics. As an example, he presents Brouwer’s invention of his theory of the continuum. He cites the following statement by Heyting about Brouwer’s invention: “If recursive functions had been invented before, Brouwer would perhaps not have formed the notion of a choice sequence” (Popper 1972, 109).

The details of this example do not matter. The example illustrates the point in question. Quite plausibly, problem situa­tions may greatly influence the thinking of scientists. But here, too, we have to distinguish between two questions. The first is whether problem situations exert an influence on world 2, and perhaps on world 1. It is quite another question what problem situations are ontologically. They might be world 3 objects, but they might also belong to worlds 1 or 2. Popper’s example teaches us nothing about this question. It only illustrates the impact of problem situations, not their ontological character. [291]

The independence of World 3

Among the inmates of my ‘third world’ [World 3] are, more especially, theoretical systems; but inmates just as important are problems and problem situations. And I will argue that the most important inmates of this world are critical argu­ments, and what may be called—in analogy to a physical state or to a state of consciousness—the state of a discussion or the state of a critical argument; and, of course, the contents of journals, books and libraries. …

Let me repeat one of my standard arguments for the (more or less) independent existence of the third world [World 3].

I consider two thought experiments:

Experiment (1). All our machines and tools are destroyed, and all our subjective learning, including our subjective knowledge of machines and tools, and how to use them. But libraries and our capacity to learn from them survive. Clearly, after much suffering, our world may get going again.

Experiment (2). As before, machines and tools are destroyed, and our subjective learning, including our subjective knowledge of machines and tools, and how to use them. But this time, all libraries are destroyed also, so that our ca­pacity to learn from books becomes useless.

If you think about these two experiments, the reality, significance, and degree of autonomy of the third world [World 3] (as well as its effects on the second and first worlds [Worlds 2 and 1]) may perhaps become a little clearer to you. For in the second case, there will be no re-emergence of our civilization for many millenia. [107-8]

Reducing mental to physical states

If mental entities or, better, mental states should exist—and I myself do not doubt that the do exist—then positing mental states is necessary for any true explanation of them; and shoud they one day be reduced to physical states, then this will be a tremendous success. [293]

Provoking the ‘belief philosophers’

In upholding an objective third world [World 3] I hope to provoke those whom I call ‘belief philosophers’: those who, like Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, or Russell, are interested in our subjective beliefs, and their basis or origin. Against these belief philosophers I urge that our problem is to find better and bolder theories; and that critical pre­ference counts, but not belief. [107]

Operating with World 3 objects

[A]ll the important things we can say about an act of knowledge consist of pointing out the third-world objects of the act—a theory or proposition—and its relation to other third-world objects, such as the arguments bearing on the prob­lem as well as the objects known. [163]

Objective understanding

I have given here some reasons for the autonomous existence of an objective third world because I hope to make a contribution to the theory of understanding (‘hermeneutics’), which has been much discussed by students of the humanities (‘Geisteswissenschaften’, ‘moral and mental sciences’). Here I will start from the assumption that it is the understanding of objects belonging to the third world which constitutes the central problem of the humanities. This, it appears, is a radical departure from the fundamental dogma accepted by almost all students of the humanities (as the term indicates), and especially by those who are interested in the problem of understanding. I mean of course the dogma that the objects of our understanding belong mainly to the second world, or that they are at any rate to be ex­plained in psychological terms. [162]

The self as a product of World 3

But the human consciousness of self transcends, I suggest, all purely biological thought. I may put it like this: I have little doubt that animals are conscious, and especially that they feel pain and that a dog can be full of joy when his master returns. But I conjecture that only a human being capable of speech can reflect upon himself. I think that every organism has a programme. But I also think that only a human being can be conscious of parts of this programme, and revise them critically.

Most organisms, if not all, are programmed to explore their environment, taking risks in doing so. But they do not take these risks consciously. Though they have an instinct for self preservation, they are not aware of death. It is only man who may consciously face death in his search for knowledge.

A higher animal may have a character: it may have what we may call virtues or vices. A dog may be brave, affable, and loyal; or it may be vicious and treacherous. But I think that only a man can make an effort to become a better man: to master his fears, his laziness, his selfishness; to get over his lack of self control.

In all these matters it is the anchorage of the self in World 3 that makes the difference. The basis of it is human lan­guage which makes it possible for us to be not only subjects, centres of action, but also objects of our own critical thought, of our own critical judgement. This is made possible by the social character of language; by the fact that we can speak about other people, and that we can understand them when they speak about themselves.

The social character of language together with the fact that we owe our status as selves – our humanity, our rationality – to language, and thus to others, seems to me important. As selves, as human beings, we are all products of World 3 which, in its turn, is a product of countless human minds.

I have described World 3 as consisting of the products of the human mind. But human minds react, in their turn, to these products: there is a feedback. The mind of a painter, for example, or of an engineer, is greatly influenced by the very objects on which he is working. And he is also influenced by the work of others, predecessors as well as contem­poraries. This influence is both conscious and unconscious. It bears upon expectations, upon preferences, upon pro­grammes. In so far as we are the products of other minds, and of our own minds, we ourselves may be said to belong to World 3. [!!!]

The blockheadedness of IQ

It seems likely that there are innate differences of intelligence. But it seems almost impossible that a matter so many-sided and complex as human inborn knowledge and intelligence (quickness of grasp, depth of understanding, crea­tivity, clarity of expression, etc.) can be measured by a one-dimensional function like the “Intelligence Quotient” (I.Q.). As Peter Medawar … writes:

“One doesn’t have to be a physicist or even a gardener to realize that the quality of an entity as diverse and complex as soil depends upon … [a] large number of variables … [Yet] it is only in recent years that the hunt for single-value characterizations of soil properties has been virtually abandoned.”

The single-valued I.Q. is still far from being abandoned, even though this kind of criticism is leading, slowly and belatedly, to attempts to investigate such things as “creativity”. However, the success of thes attempts is very doubtful: creativity is also many-sided and complex.

We must be clear that it is perfectly possible that an intellectual giant like Einstein may have a comparatively low I.Q. and that among people with an unusually high I.Q. talents of the kind that lead to creative World 3 achievements may be quite rare, just as it may happen that an otherwise highly gifted child may suffer from dyslexia. (I have myself known an I.Q. genius who was a blockhead.) [123]

The task of being a person

Against this, I suggest that being a self is partly the result of inborn dispositions and partly the result of experience, especially social experience. The newborn child has many inborn ways of acting and of responding, and many inborn tendencies to develop new responses and new activities. Among these tendencies is a tendency to develop into a person conscious of himself. But in order to achieve this, much must happen. A human child growing up in social iso­lation will fail to attain a full consciousness of self.

Thus I suggest that not only perception and language have to be learned – actively – but even the task of being a person; and I further suggest that this involves not merely a close contact with the World 2 of other persons, but also a close contact with the World 3 of language and of theories such as a theory of time (or something equivalent). [111]

Learning to be a self

In this section my thesis is that we – that is to say our personalities, our selves – are anchored in all the three worlds, and especially in World 3.

It seems to me of considerable importance that we are not born as selves, but that we have to learn that we are selves; in fact we have to learn to be selves. This learning process is one in which we learn about World 1, World 2, and especially about World 3. [108-9]

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